Monday, May 15, 2006

5th Sunday of Easter (B)
Christian Homemakers

Readings: Acts 9:26-31; 1 John 3:18-24; John 15:1-8

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, do you ever sometimes stop and ask yourselves what it is you want most in life? What is your deepest desire? I sometimes think that at some level, everyone of us is looking for a special place, a place where we can find comfort and security, intimacy and acceptance, a place where we can relax and truly be ourselves because we know that we are valued for who we are and not only for what we can achieve or what we can produce. At some level, I think we are all looking for a home.

Isn’t that what we spend much of our lives doing? Why, for example, do we spend so many years in school? And have you noticed how school seems to be starting at an ever earlier age these days? Why do we slog so hard at work everyday? Why do we yearn for that special someone with whom to settle down? Is it not, in some way, to build a better life for ourselves – or, in other words, to make ourselves a better home? And doesn’t this desire also characterize us as a nation? Didn’t the government speak, some years back, about the need to make Singapore “our best home?”

Of course, materially speaking, Singapore is a good home for many. Those who have traveled a bit will have seen for themselves. Here, for example, we hardly see as many of the homeless people that are to be found in some of the other major cities of the world. But home is more than just a roof over our heads, isn’t it? We can be sheltered by a structure of brick and concrete and still feel homeless, can’t we? Just as we can be surrounded by people everyday and still feel lonely.

Which is why it is important for us to pay attention to what our readings tell us today. As we continue to celebrate this great season of Easter, as we continue to explore the reasons for, and the implications of, our Easter joy, our readings invite us to meditate more deeply on where and how Christians should make their home.

In no uncertain terms, Jesus himself answers the “where” question in the gospel. “Make your home in me,” he says, “as I make mine in you.” And he follows that by repeatedly telling us – no less than six times in the space of three verses – to “remain” in him, as branches in the true vine, so that we can bear “fruit in plenty.”

As we listen to these words of Jesus, I think it is important that we not be too quick to look at it first as an obligation. We Catholics are good at that aren’t we? Just yesterday, I was at a confirmation Mass, and after it was over, someone asked me if it satisfied the Sunday obligation. When Jesus says “make your home in me, as I make mine in you,” shouldn’t we first be struck by the immense honor and privilege that is being accorded us? Shouldn’t we first meditate on the mind-blowing reality of what Jesus is saying: that he, the Eternal Word and Splendor of the Father, the Wonder Counselor and Prince of Peace, actually makes his home in us? And isn’t this part of the reason for our Easter joy – that because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the almighty God, who fashioned the whole universe out of nothing, has now made his home in our hearts and in our lives?

There is, of course, also an obligation. We do need respond to God’s initiative. We do need to “remain” in the Lord. But doesn’t the obligation feel much less burdensome, the more deeply we allow ourselves to be touched by the honor and privilege of God’s presence within and among us? And this is especially so when we meditate upon the cost that Christ had to bear so that this privilege might be ours. On the cross, he emptied himself to his last breath and to the last drop of his precious blood.

How, then, shall we respond? How might we remain in his love? Again, the readings are helpful. In the second reading, John speaks clearly about the need to “keep his commandments.” And “his commandments are these: that we believe in the name of… Jesus Christ and that we love one another as he told us to.” John also makes it very clear that “our love is not to be just words or mere talk, but something real and active.”

We see that kind of “real and active” love in the first reading, don’t we? Having repented of his former obsession with persecuting the followers of Christ, Saul now tries to join them in Jerusalem. But, quite understandably, “they were all afraid of him.” So we are told that Barnabas “took charge of (Saul), introduced him to the apostles, and explained how the Lord had appeared… and spoken to him… and how he had preached boldly in Damascus in the name of Jesus.” What exactly did Barnabas do for Saul? Was it not, in effect, to help make a home for him among the disciples? And isn’t this what “real and active” love is? Isn’t this what it means to remain in Christ? Isn’t this what it means to be a Christian: to help make others at home in Christ?

And isn’t this what Saul and the rest of the members of the early church all about? In their fearless preaching and witnessing to the crucified and risen Christ in word and action, they were really helping their listeners to make their home in Christ. And notice the fruit of this unity of purpose: we are told that they were “left in peace, building themselves up, living in the fear of the Lord, and filled with the consolation of the Holy Spirit.” In tirelessly making a home in Christ for others, they in turn found a home for themselves. They in turn found themselves remaining in the one who makes his home in them.

This seems also to be the experience, for example, of the women, featured in yesterday’s Straits Times, who generously participate in the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports’ child fostering scheme. In particular, Madam T. Sembugavalie, aged 66, one of the scheme’s longest-serving foster mothers, was reported as having taken care of almost 40 children over the past 32 years. She told the Straits Times that “her home remains open to children in need as long as she is healthy, ‘as every child has the right to a loving home.’”

Sisters and brothers, is this not the crucially important lesson that our readings have for us on this 5th Sunday of Easter: that to be a Christian is somehow to be a homemaker? Not just any homemaker, but one who continues to make one’s own home in the Lord by helping others to do the same. It’s an important lesson, especially for us who live in the hectic and fast-paced society that is Singapore. In the face of the many different demands on our time and energy isn’t it so important that we have a proper sense of our priorities? Isn’t it so important that we continually ask ourselves what it is that we truly desire, what it is that might truly help us to arrive and remain at home?

Sisters and brothers, as we continue to enter more deeply into the joy of this Easter season, how are we being invited, as individuals and as a community, to become better homemakers in the household of the Lord?

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